Brunilda “Bruni” Harikrishnan, a 54-year-old preschool teacher and Bloomfield resident, has had many medical challenges throughout her life. At the age of 18, she was in a car accident that resulted in brain damage and memory loss. Despite these challenges, she raised a family, earned a degree in early childhood education from Essex County College and volunteered at her church where she assisted in teaching students with special needs.
Recently, Bruni and her husband, Ganesh, noticed signs of infection in her right leg, accompanied by a high fever. They went to the emergency room where her husband told the doctors about increased falls and cognitive deficits that Bruni was experiencing. Subsequent testing revealed a brain tumor, leading to surgery that left Bruni unable to walk, speak or perform daily tasks.
After she was medically stable, Bruni continued her recovery at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (KIR) - West Orange. She had been at Kessler 36 years ago for her initial brain injury and knew this was the best place for her to get back to her old self.
“I wanted her to walk, wash and eat by herself and I thought it was impossible,” recalled Ganesh. “But with realistic expectations I just wanted her to be able to talk and be able to tell us what she wants and needs.”
Her physician-led care team developed a treatment program that included physical, occupational, speech and respiratory therapies.
Bruni’s treatment initially focused on range of motion exercises, lateral transfers, sitting balance and attention and cognition. Her physical therapists used a tilt table to improve her lower body strength and allow her to get used to being in an upright position, a Hoyer sling was used for transfers and body weight supported systems were used to help her start to stand and walk.
Other activities included ambulation exercises, stair negotiation and stand pivot transfers. As her therapy progressed, Bruni learned to stand from a wheelchair, turn to sit, dress, wash and move her wheelchair independently.
Gradually, she regained movement in her right lower extremity and fingers. Coordinated medical and therapy services, combined with Bruni’s hard work and perseverance, fueled her progress.
Bruni enjoyed therapy and made friends with therapists and patients alike. She encouraged those around her and provided compliments to other patients when she saw them working hard on their goals.
Bruni’s husband and mother played crucial roles in her recovery. Ganesh supported her through cognitive issues that resulted from her car accident long ago and was right by her side this time around too. Bruni's sons, Vijay and Ruben, were instrumental in her recovery as well. Not only did they encourage her, but they helped Ganesh, who spent a lot of time away from home while Bruni was at Kessler.After leaving KIR - West Orange, Bruni planned to keep working towards regaining full strength with her family's support.